As the 2016 prep baseball season approaches, the Silver Creek Raptors are going to have to prove they can swing the sticks.
But there's no doubt they have faith in the Wood that's on their roster.
After dedicating himself to becoming an ace pitcher and working toward getting an opportunity to play at the next level, senior Austin Wood is ready to carry the Raptors toward the top of the Northern League this spring.
At 6-foot-5 and roughly 210 pounds, he carries a powerful presence 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. He has high expectations for himself after going 5-1 with a 1.98 earned run average last season, not to mention the club ball he played during the summer and fall.
Wood has honed in on pitching after spending most of his youth divided between baseball and football. His family has a rich tradition on the gridiron, especially at the Division I level in college, and Wood figured that was his destiny for a long while, too.
But after his sophomore year, he was drawn toward the diamond even more. He still played football his junior season, as a quarterback for the Raptors, but made the tough decision to forego football as a senior and join a couple different club organizations through the fall.
It turned out to be a great life experience.
"I grew up a lot this fall, I think. I got the chance to play with the Mets scout team and played in Puerto Rico in their island games," Wood said. "It was great to make so many connections, first, but it was a situation where I was out on my own for awhile for the first time, which was great. You really got that minor-league kind of experience, and the camaraderie was unreal."
Wood has already signed with Division I Furman University in Greenville, S.C. But his work to get there is expected to pay off for Silver Creek — a team that was teetering on a league title last year before dropping the final three games of the season.
"The great thing about Austin is that you knew whatever he did he was going to work hard at it, and no matter what side you're on you know you want a kid that's going to work at his craft," said head coach Mike Apodaca, who also heads up the football team. "He did that over the fall and put himself in position to be our No. 1 and lead our team."
Wood could end up being one of the state's best pitchers, and one can't rule out keeping an eye on his MLB draft status in June. He's a right-handed power arm who has been working diligently on his change-up.
"I feel like, versus last year, I can throw my fastball with command wherever I want, four-seam or two-seam, with movement," Wood said. "I feel like I can throw my change-up with confidence, too. But I'll keep working on different pitches in bullpen."
Apodaca also has sophomore Cole Winn running up right behind Wood, and the pair should help keep opposing teams handcuffed while the Raptors work on improving from a .277 team batting average last year.
Apodaca also said he hopes the team's downfalls last year — they took two losses to Northridge and another to Mountain View in a three-day stretch to finish 10-9 — still resonates a bit.
"I hope so to be honest," Apodaca said. "We had good enough pitching last year but we just didn't back it up (offensively). You're just not going to win big games when you can't hit. Hopefully they have that taste in their mouth."
If the Northern slate isn't tough enough, the schedule for the Raptors begin the season with two 4A ranked teams — Windsor and Longmont — before heading to Arizona for a week.